Items for Ecological Literacy

by David Orr

This piece was originally published in Perspectives in Bioregional Education, edited by Frank Traina and Susan Darley-Hill, North American Association for Environmental Education, copyright 1995.

Here is a short list of items suggested by David Orr to be included in any curriculum endorsing ecological literacy. They remind us that the time is upon us to teach about the real world of nature and how to live as part of that real world. These items need to be part of the “hidden curriculum” of every class:

—the laws of thermodynamics

—the basic principles of ecology

—carrying capacity


—least-cost, end-use analysis

—how to live well in a place

—limits of technology

—appropriate scale

—sustainable agriculture and forestry

—steady-state economics

—environmental ethics

Excerpted from “What is Education For?” In Context (No. 27), pp.52-55

David Orr (b. 1944) is a writer and educator. His work focuses on ecological literacy, including the importance of using an ecological lens in a wide range of areas of study and sustainable design on campus. In 1996 he organized the construction of Oberlin’s Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies, the “first substantially green building on a US campus.” He is currently the Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics Emeritus at Oberlin College and the Professor of Practice at Arizona State University.

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